COACH: Rick Carlisle | 2007-08: 51-31
Dallas Mavericks

Kidd hopes to be back in control.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
What does a franchise do two years removed from the NBA Finals and after two straight first-round flameouts? In Dallas' case, fire the coach. The same Avery Johnson lauded for instilling a battle-hardened attitude the Mavericks lacked took the fall for the mental breakdowns that left the team without an identity.

Are these Mavs ready to contend again or has their time in the Western Conference sun passed them by? It's up to Rick Carlisle to figure it out. The former Pistons and Pacers skipper inherits a group that's traded playoff success for YouTube fame. Not a good swap.

Carlisle starts work with a former MVP, but the relationship of interest for those who pack American Airlines Center nightly is the one with the other Olympian. Jason Kidd and Johnson didn't see eye-to-eye, a surprising turn for those who thought their match was made in Point Guard Heaven. The Little General was never able to cede control to Kidd, and Dallas faded badly after the trade and down the stretch.

Carlisle wasted little time reaching out to Redeem Team's elder statesman. Kidd's inclusion on Team USA was as much about his court savvy as his court vision. Maybe more. Carlisle talked with Kidd about his time with Mark Jackson and Anthony Johnson in Indy, making the point that he lets his point guards call the shots. Kidd liked the sound of that.

"He has no problem with guys that he trusts that can run the team," Kidd said of Carlisle. "He said he will call plays at some point, but first will look to get easy baskets. He wants to have a sense of ‘just playing.' Being structured, but playing, because when you get to the Finals, it's not so much about the plays, but being able to play. I'm excited to play for Rick."

It's fair to say that Kidd is craving more freedom.

"For me it's just about starting from the beginning and being more comfortable," he said. "I have to look for my shot a little bit more, but I also have a lot of weapons out there. The way we can make the team better is with me scoring and being more aggressive. That's what Rick has also talked about. Everybody was playing catch-up the second half of the season. We all needed to start over."

But whether or not the Mavs strike fear into the hearts of the Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Jazz and the rest of the West's best won't be because the coach and quarterback hook up on Facebook. Kidd needs to come to play (and pass) and Carlisle needs everyone else to buy into what he's dishing.

Kidd's rep is built on making those around him better. Heads and hands up, and easy shots follow. Dirk Nowitzki has been pining for those good looks ever since a floppy-haired Canadian bolted for the desert. But can J-Kidd, at 35, keep up with the West's pacesetters? It won't be easy chasing those young rabbits, such as his Olympic teammates Chris Paul and Deron Williams, and those wily vets in Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Baron Davis.

Carlisle turned bad scenes good in Motown and Naptown, but didn't stick around long in either stop. Justified or not, he was cast as rigid and a poor communicator. No one questions his basketball IQ, but X's & O's only take a coach so far. Carlisle spent his year off the sidelines studying the game from the ESPN studio, getting a needed break and different perspective.

"This team needs to be more of an up-tempo-type team," Carlisle said. "We have a great leader in Jason Kidd that I have to give the ball to and let him run the team, which I've done with some of the point guards I've had in the past.

"I think there will be a real premium on using the space on the floor and being a real good movement team, but not forgetting about the importance of the defensive end. That's one of the really important things Avery did in his time here was establish a defensive disposition and commitment. And that's certainly one of the reasons they've had the level of success they've had."

His goal is the Holy Grail of coaching or perhaps the blend of Johnson and predecessor Don Nelson. Carlisle wants to run and defend. Then again, what team doesn't? Are the horses in place to gallop? The jockey, albeit an older one, starts training camp in the saddle. The coach plans to crack his whip. The Mavs figure to break … one way or the other.
-- Art Garcia

Season, single-game and group tickets are available. Or connect to the Mavs Trading Post and buy tickets from season ticket holders.

Josh Howard, the world is watching and listening, and it's not helping your cause.

The draft oversight became a starter and then an All-Star. His all-around game made Howard the most indispensable Maverick this side of Dirk. They formed a forward tandem as good as any in the league. Howard wasn't just a piece. He was a cornerstone.

But seemingly out of nowhere, J-Ho went bonkers. Not once. Not twice. The list is getting too long to count. It started with a late-season admission of marijuana use in a Dallas newspaper and on a local talkshow. A late-night birthday party after a losing home playoff game drew the understandable ire of Johnson. Street racing in North Carolina and derogatory comments aimed at the unsuspecting national anthem headlined his offseason.

Support followed from the owner and new coach, but many longtime fans found his antics impossible to swallow. There's a difference between brutal honesty and image suicide. Howard, hopefully, is learning that lesson. Hope does remain. Fans, teammates and coaches often forgive, though carefully-crafted statements don't get you back in the good graces. If Howard can find his way back to being a 20-and-8 guy, the cheers will start coming back.

"We need him to play big," Carlisle said simply. "He needs to get back to Western Conference All-Star-caliber level of play for 82 games, which he did a couple of years ago."
-- Art Garcia

10 The number of points Dirk Nowitzki needs to reach 17,000 for his career.
It's hard to believe this team was on the verge of an NBA championship a little over two years ago.
They still have great talent, led by Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd and will be able to compete with any team on any given night.
The up side of this team is experience. The down side is this team is starting to look old. Five of their key players have 12 or more years in the league and Dirk is right behind them with 10.
Hopefully their old bodies hold up. However, their window of opportunity for winning a championship has past, as is evident by them being the fourth-best team in their division.
They do have a bright young star in Josh Howard to shore up the potentially weary legs of veterans Jerry Stackhouse, Eddie Jones and Erick Dampier.
Jason Terry is nearing the point in his career where most guys who have relied so heavily on their quickness begin to slow down.
Look for them to make the playoffs and maybe even the second round but that's where it will end for Mark Cuban's Mavs.
-- NBA Scout
Dirk Nowitzki turned in almost the exact same numbers in 2007-08 as he did during his MVP season the year before, but his team won 16 fewer games, and he fell out of the public eye. But roto basketball isn't concerned with public opinion, so there's no reason to downgrade the best 7-foot offensive perimeter player in NBA history.

Need more? Order Rotowire's Draft Kit on Fantasy Index

Record: 54-28, 3rd in Western Conf.
Playoffs: Lost in First Round to San Antonio, 4-3
Scoring Leader: D. Nowitzki, 26.7 PPG
Rebounding Leader: D. Nowitzki, 9.2 RPG
Assist Leader: J. Kidd, 8.6 APG

Simulated Season Details
PG Jason Kidd 10.8 10.1 1.7
SG Jerry Stackhouse 10.7 2.3 2.5
SF Josh Howard 19.9 7.0 2.2
PF Dirk Nowitzki 23.6 8.6 3.5
C Erick Dampier 6.1 7.5 0.9

F Brandon Bass 8.3 4.4 0.7
C DeSagana Diop 2.9 5.0 0.5
F Devean George 3.7 2.6 0.7
G Gerald Green 5.1 2.1 1.0
G Jason Terry 15.5 2.5 3.2
C DeSagana Diop Free agent
G Gerald Green Free agent
F Malik Allen Free agent
F Juwan Howard Free agent
G Tyronn Lue Free agent
C Jamaal Magloire Free agent
PPG Dirk Nowitzki 23.6
RPG Dirk Nowitzki 8.6
APG Jason Kidd 9.5
SPG Jason Kidd 2.14
BPG Erick Dampier 1.47
Points Scored 100.4 (12th)
Points Allowed 95.9 (6th)
Field-Goal Percentage .464 (9th)
Opponents' FG% .443 (4th)
Rebounding Diff. +2.74 (5th)
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Web: Official site
Local Coverage: Dallas Morning News | Fort Worth Star-Telegram